Should all mothers breast-feed their children? This question remains controversial in the twenty-first century. In an interview with the newspaper Liberation in 2010, feminist philosopher Elisabeth Badinter claimed that the pressure to breast-feed signified “a reduction of woman to the status of an animal species, as though we were all female chimpanzees.”
The debate over maternal nursing held even more urgency before pasteurization provided a safe alternative in the early 1900s. While scholars of literary criticism and art history have described the abundance of breast-feeding imagery following the publication of Rousseau’s Emile in 1762, little has been written on its manifestations in the nineteenth century. Despite an ongoing propaganda campaign to encourage mothers to nurse, reflected in such diverse sources as medical theses, paintings, and fictional cautionary tales, French mothers continued to entrust their infants to wet nurses more often and for longer than was the norm in other European countries throughout the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth.
This book examines representations of breast-feeding in French literature and culture from 1800 to 1900 and their apparent dissonance with the socio-historical realities of French mothers.
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